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April 5, 2004

Under The Knife

Baseball Day

by Will Carroll

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I'm ready for Baseball Day. You know, the new national holiday for the real first day of baseball. Everyone plays, everyone's in first, and we all leave the cares and worries of the world at the gate of our local ballpark. Everyone plays--majors and minors, college, high school, but let's let the Little Leaguers go see their heroes. It's an easy enough plan and a situation where having a baseball fan in the White House might help.

Kicking off the regular season, I'm powered by hope and faith that this is the next year I've been waiting for all my life...so on to the injuries:

  • What was that about hope? Many Cubs fans--and apparently much of the Cubs media--is nearing the point of hara-kiri (as opposed to Harry Caray) regarding the minor injury to Mark Prior. Yes, I said minor. If you've been to any of the Pizza Feeds this spring or listened to Baseball Prospectus Radio, you'll know I've continually said not to get too worked up over Prior's Achilles injury. He will miss anywhere from three to four weeks while the injury first quiets, then work to build up his stamina and arm strength. Prior is currently working on mechanics, trying to get everything back to his normal 'stacked and stable' delivery.

  • Let me count the e-mails asking me about Pedro Martinez's arm slot and velocity during the game tonight...and probably more on the way. It's a bit of a change for me, but after working with Tom House this off-season, I'm not worried about arm slot. If everything else is in line, the arm slot will find itself. Pedro's velocity is only important in relation to his other pitches. He certainly didn't look great on Sunday night, but one start isn't something that should start a panic.

  • What might be worthy of panic is the chronic nature of Jose Reyes' hamstring problems. As detailed last week in the New York Times, the hamstring problem goes back to his early teens, affects his back, and seems to be at the stage where unless something drastic is done, he'll be constantly on the shelf, his talent and speed neutralized. The Mets look like they're willing to go outside the box, trying things that might be considered drastic by some. The move to second shouldn't be considered a major negative given this context.

  • Nick Johnson's added back injury to his resume of aches and pains. While not structural and actually considered minor, Johnson needs to, at some point in the not too distant future, put together a stretch of injury-free baseball. There is a point where a series of varied injuries becomes as significant as one chronic disabling condition. Terrmel Sledge is the biggest beneficiary.

  • The news is pretty good for the Giants, especially considering two key pitchers start on the DL. While Robb Nen is just getting ready to return to a throwing program, Jason Schmidt will only miss one turn after a retro DL move. Schmidt's shoulder problem is likely the result of being cautious with his surgically-repaired elbow, a very common problem. The elbow, my biggest worry for him coming into the season, has had no problems at all.

  • As detailed in the Cardinals Team Health Report, Woody Williams is a big question mark. Coming off a harsh workload, he hasn't looked great this spring, struggling with his command. Reports from his exhibition start in Memphis indicate his command simply vanished in the fifth inning and he was repeatedly shaking out his arm. Those two issues point to an elbow problem, so watch him closely in his first couple starts.

  • The injury to Brendan Donnelly--a broken nose and serious nosebleeds stemming from a flyball to the face--remains a serious concern. After significant blood loss, there's concern that further surgery might be needed. Donnelly, a key part of a great Angels pen, may not be available until June. If he hadn't had his Oakleys on, he might not be available, period.

  • Al Leiter and Eric Byrnes are both a bit worse for wear after a close encounter of the horsehide kind, but it could have been worse. Leiter took a shot off the side of the head from a comebacker, glancing off his temple. Byrnes got beaned and needed six stitches. Leiter doesn't think he'll miss his scheduled start, but it depends on how hard the ball struck and if he has any headaches or balance loss. Byrnes should have no problems, even indicating that he was a "hockey player" and could have come back that game.

  • There was a late report that Aubrey Huff left his exhibition finale with a stiff back. I don't have more info, so keep your eye on this. Likely just precautionary, as Huff has not had previous back problems.

  • Brian Jordan will miss a couple weeks as he continues to build strength in his knee. There's some concern that he will not be able to get back to a state where he's not in constant danger of further knee injuries, but Jordan seems comfortable with the risk. His football background probably helps his pain tolerance, but the Rangers medical staff will watch closely to see how functional he can be. Until his return, Kevin Mench will get a chance to showcase himself.

  • When it comes to Matt Mantei, the oft-injured Diamondbacks reliever, a broken fingernail probably seems like small potatoes. He was able to complete an inning in Saturday's exhibition, which is a good sign that the problem is being dealt with.

  • The Yankees expect to have Bernie Williams in their lineup for their stateside opener. Mostly recovered from his appendectomy, he'll likely open at DH, though concerns with Jason Giambi's knee may cost him at-bats. Williams expects to have fewer problems with his arthritic shoulders and knees if he's not asked to play center. Were it not for Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui on the corners, he might still be a credible outfielder.

  • Quick cuts: Tony Armas starts the season on the DL, but some sources are saying that a May return is now a best-case scenario...Eli Marrero begins the season on the DL with a mild abdominal strain. He'll be off on April 11...Paul Shuey is going to try and avoid surgery on his damaged thumb, but unlike Gary Sheffield's condition, that thumb is much harder to deal with as a pitcher...Sidney Ponson went 111 pitches in five-plus innings last night. Not efficient...Steve Karsay is back throwing, but he's still looking at June 1 as a target.

As always, back tomorrow (and the two remaining THRs are coming this week).

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